There is nothing like the sound world created by Olivier Messiaen, and there's nothing like experiencing it through his works for the organ, especially when they are performed on a top-notch instrument in a massive cathedral where pedal notes can create seismic waves and the most delicate of tones can haunt the air. Messiaen, a fervent Catholic who poured his faith into his music, produced an amazing body of repertoire for "the king of instruments," and Jonathan William Moyer is giving Baltimore a chance to hear all of it this year, to commemorate the centennial of Messiaen's birth.
On Sunday evening, the third installment of that survey was delivered in the ideal space of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen (the first concert was given there on Feb. 24, the final one will be held there on Nov. 23). Moyer has been presenting the organ works in chronological order. This program, covering the 1950s and '60s, contained about two and a half hours of music, all of it played with admirable technical control and expressive force. In a couple of spots, I think there would have been room for a little more breadth -- a more elongated silence after a massive chordal outburst, perhaps, or a slightly slower, subtler fade-out of a delicate coda. But the intellectual and spiritual power of the music came through all evening, nowhere more viscerally than in the brilliant collision of tonalities in Les yeux dans les roues, or the complex harmonic progressions that make such exquisite sense at the end of the eighth movement of Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite. The latter work's recurring song of the yellow-hammer -- Messiaen had a lifelong obsession with birdcalls and heard in them a translation of the language of God -- left a vivid impression.
Moyer, who is working on his doctorate at Peabody, has clearly thought deeply about each note, chord and tonal coloring in these pieces, the multiple layers of texture and meaning. He continues to impress me as a musician with extraordinary poise and promise, and his Messiaen marathon represents an unusually valuable gift to the community.
BALTIMORE SUN PHOTO: Algerina Perna (2003)